Whether or not you come from a country where household help is common, you may decide that employing a beloved ayi is a blessing. Having help may feel invasive or uncomfortable at first, but all this passes when you find the right person for hire. Here are some tips on the process of hiring, managing and retaining domestic support.
Where to Look
If you’ve just arrived in China and have yet to make many friends, you can begin the process by perusing noticeboards in local grocery stores for ayi and driver postings. Be sure to verify experience whenever possible so as to avoid being presented with a dishonest CV. You may also talk with the customer service office in your compound, which often has books filled with prospective ayis. A possible bonus of going through a compound is that they can provide translation help during an interview.
Word-of-mouth references and online expat sites (such as the classifieds on beijing-kids.com) are other popular ways of sifting through ayi choices. You generally get an honest report and it’s a great opportunity to discover and discuss these points with an expat employer. Occasionally, ayis will refer their friends or family members to prospective families.
There are also many expat ayi agencies that assist with the daunting task of hiring help. In addition, these services often provide drivers, Mandarin classes, and sometimes have discounts for multiple needs. This route can take some of the guesswork out of the process, with background and health checks complete and training offered. Agencies generally require clients to pay a membership or management fee for some of these extra assurances, but the monthly pay then goes directly to the ayi for the work she performs. Some wary expats may be concerned that some of the ayis’ full pay goes to a third party, but both Beijing Ayi Housekeeping Service Company and Beijing EX-PATS Service provide assurances that ayis do indeed get paid as contracted. Agency websites are a great source to clearly outline pay ranges depending on qualifications, language ability, hours and more.
New mom Lisa Cupps works full time at the International School of Beijing (ISB). Knowing that they wanted to start a family, she and her husband wanted an ayi for cleaning as well as childcare. It was important to find someone who not only had childcare experience, but also truly enjoyed caring for babies. Cupps found this and more in Wenying, an ayi with experience working for expat families.
At ISB, Cupps is able to bring 5-month-old Gabriella and ayi to her workplace. The school provides a baby crèche, where Wenying can care for Gabriella while Cupps is working closeby. Also, the school nurse is knowledgeable about emergency care for babies and has baby supplies on hand.
Wenying was found through an advertisement posted on Beijing Café, an invite-only Yahoo Group. When the baby was born, Wenying’s workday changed from an eight-hour day to an 11-hour day, inclusive of the commute from Chaoyang to Shunyi. She is paid for a 40-hour work week plus overtime, and will receive a substantial increase after one year, since her responsibilities have increased. “Wenying is caring for our baby, therefore we feel the need to care for Wenying,” says Cupps. “Providing a good salary and benefits is just a start.”
Feeling very lucky to have found exactly what she wanted in an ayi, Cupps says, “She’s kind of the manager of our house.” Wenying takes on responsibilities as needed and makes things flow for the family. As a new mom, Cupps explains, “I’m just trying to figure things out for myself, and Wenying doesn’t try to impose her own ideas in that regard. She really just wants to make me happy by doing a good job.”
A Two-Way Street
Having lived in Beijing for over 11 years, the Buchinger family have seen their ayi needs change over time. A seasoned Beijing expat, Katharina Buchinger prefers using word-of-mouth to find ayis. Luckily, she has developed a great network of friends in Shunyi.
Her current ayi, Xiaofu, has been with the family for a long time. Although they lost contact when Xiaofu temporarily moved away to give birth, she is back in Beijing and helping Buchinger with everything from household chores to watching the family’s daughters, Saskia (8) and Alexandra (4). Buchinger’s ayi works from 8.30am to 7pm on weekdays, and 11am to 7pm on Saturdays. She is paid “accordingly,” says Buchinger. As suggested by embassies, anywhere between RMB 2,500-2,800 is recommended for full-time English speaking ayis.
Time and experience have helped Buchinger figure out what helps her family most. She strongly recommends contacting a previous employer if possible. Most importantly, you must train your ayi; don’t assume they know your standards or expectations. “Ayis always want to do what you want them to do, so teach them,” states Buchinger. Furthermore, just because an ayi worked for one expat family does not mean the same service will suit your family.
The girls adore Xiaofu and the feeling is mutual, a sign they found the right ayi for their family. “You have to look carefully at the person you want to hire. If something doesn’t feel right, let it go,” recommends Buchinger. “You see this person more than you see your own husband sometimes, so you have to choose someone from your heart.”
Buchinger speaks Chinese, which she believe does help. Communication
is better and everyone is more aware of the expectations if you’re speaking the same language.
The Great Debate
When new families come to Beijing, a lot of energy is spent on discussing
the ayi situation here. Are people paying ayis too much? Are ayis too demanding? Is inflation greatly affecting local residents? Arm yourself with the information you need, and make your decision accordingly. There is no right or wrong answer. If you’re happy and your ayi is happy, it really isn’t a debate any longer. What’s important is making a decision based on what you’re comfortable with. It may take a try or two to get it right, but putting in the effort to find and train your ayi will yield positive results for all parties involved.
Top Tips for Hiring
Many guides can direct you to asking the “right” questions when hiring an ayi to work for you, including a great list of considerations in the “Helping Hands” article from the beijingkids 2011-2012 Relocation Guide (available for download at beijing-kids.com). No question is a silly one, when you’re choosing an employee, who you trust to care for your house and your children. In addition to the “Helping Hands” article, consider the following:
Act fast. If you’re interested in a particular posting or referral from an acquaintance, contact the ayi immediately.
Remember that ayis have different strengths and life experiences. Don’t assume that they can read your mind about what you want done or how you want it done.
Find out if your ayi is willing to take on childcare and pet responsibilities in addition to house cleaning.
Clearly outline your pay structure, pay increase schedule, holidays, bonuses and anything else that pertains to time or money.
When possible, offer a trial period of work. This way, you both can determine if it’s the right fit.
Beijing Ayi Housekeeping Service Company 北京家福来劳务服务有限公司
Mon-Fri 9am-5pm. Rm 220, Sanxia Zhaoshang Dasha, 11 Jiuxianqiao Lu, Chaoyang District (6434 5647/8, 139 1136 3252, firstname.lastname@example.org) www.bjayi.com 朝阳区酒仙桥路甲11号三峡招商大厦220室
Beijing EX-PATS Service 北京易杨家美信息咨询有限公司
Mon-Fri 8.30am-5.30pm. Rm 6003, 6/F, Ambassador Mansion, B21 Jiuxianqiao Lu, Chaoyang District (6438 1634, 135 0123 7792, email@example.com) www.expatslife.com 朝阳区酒仙桥路乙21号国宾大厦6F-3
For more ayi agencies, see the Directory under “Services.”